The Limits of Sisterhood: The Beecher Sisters on Women's Rights and Woman's Sphere

By Jeanne Boydston; Mary Kelley et al. | Go to book overview

5.
Catharine Esther Beecher: "A Power and Station and Influence"

By 1830, Catharine Beecher was growing restless. Although the Hartford Female Seminary continued a success, Beecher had been unable to realize her larger goals for the school. Most discouraging was Hartford's refusal to supply an endowment, which would have allowed the seminary to become a boarding institution and funded the position of moral instructor. Perhaps, as Beecher's biographer, Kathryn Kish Sklar, has suggested, parents were reluctant to place their daughters full-time in an all-female community and opposed Beecher's plan "to replace the role of the male clergyman with a female."1Catharine felt the blow keenly. She attributed the subsequent decline of the seminary to this cause, noting bitterly that even as they rejected an endowment for her school, Hartford citizens found the money to endow a local college for men.2

It was Lyman Beecher who supplied the resolution to Catharine's growing frustrations. In 1826, Lyman had moved from Litchfield, Connecticut, to Boston, where he undertook to drive heresy from the home of the Puritans. Now, at the end of the decade, he began to look westward, to the struggle for the great heartland of the country. As he wrote Catharine in 1830, "The moral destiny of our nation . . . turns on the character of the West, and the competition now is for. . . . the rising generation, in which Catholics and infidels have got the start of us."3 When Lyman was offered the presidency of the Lane Theological Seminary in 1832, Catharine was ready to move to Cincinnati with him. There, in 1833, she established the Western Female Institute, dedicated to moral development as well as to academic and domestic education. She shared the principalship with Harriet--but Catharine's attention was soon drawn to other matters.

Lyman carried with him to the West assumptions about the superiority of Calvinism and the New England way. Catharine shared that regional

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